Somebody do Something

Women migrants solidarity march. Brussels, March 6th.

The refugees are right. Europe is a place to escape to. Never mind the populists and the neo-Nazis. They’re nothing compared to getting shelled every day by artillery, or losing your home to Russian missiles. No matter how hard the journey is, nothing could be worse than remaining in Syria, and Iraq. The Middle East is death.

Refugee solidarity demos are hard to come by these days. In the waning days of winter, there’s still little reason to venture out. Especially as memories of the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne are still fresh, and, for many, unresolved. Even if you feel sympathetic to the plight of Arab refugees, they inspire fear like never before.

Braving the final days of winter cold were a collection of anti-capitalists, ethnic minorities, and refugees, at the beginning of March, in Brussels. Beginning at the Gare Centrale train station, the largely female demonstration marched into the nearby neighborhood of Saint-Gilles, in support of women migrants.

This recording was made impromptu, on an iPhone, while photographing the first half an hour of the demo. Repetitive and loop-like, it bears all the hallmarks of an EDM track, composed in a clip-based DAW, like Ableton Live. Chants get repeated at length, only to be interrupted by a new loop, spontaneously erupting, sometimes out of nowhere, like a rough cut to a recording.

The near two and a half minutes-length piece has three identifiable parts, which give it a song-like feel. It is not, however, composed. But there’s enough structure to it to give that impression. Blame to demonstrators. The pace remains consistent throughout, and there is the sound of a car, moving slowly, with a very loud engine, not unlike that of a motorcycle, weaving in and out, at regular intervals.

Like the best live art, there’s a readymade quality to the recording, which is enhanced by its foreign feel. Sung in French, by, at identifiable points, non-native speakers, its cosmopolitanism betrays the fact that it is about refugees. The typically Arab ululating, at the very, end helps bring things around, clearly emphasizing difference, in a moment of spontaneous screaming, and joy.

Refugee solidarity march. Brussels, March 2016.
Refugee solidarity march. Brussels, March 2016.

In an era when everything about politics is depressing, there’s something distinctly uplifting about this display, as though for a brief moment, politics was about something other than fear, or resentment. Particularly talk of immigration, which has come to signify everything that is wrong with European society. Politics can be about positive things, still, like freedom.

That’s what motivates the spirit behind this recording, and why, despite the hostility these women face in Europe, they care so much about getting legal, and being treated as equals, to Europeans.

Photographs and recording courtesy of Joel Schalit.